Yesterday at E3, the gaming industry's biggest American conference, Nintendo showed up with a 30-minute video updating their upcoming Wii U console--there have been some minor changes, like the move from touch-sensitive circle-pads to real joysticks, but the biggest change is that Nintendo seems to have finally heard of the internet.
Nintendo has been notoriously slow to embrace internet connectivity--while Microsoft and even the oft-lumbering Sony have updated their console offerings with advanced online gaming features, Nintendo's have been convoluted and extremely limited. But the Wii U is going to have some pretty advanced sharing functions--in the demo video, Nintendo showed a sort of game hints line, where players could ask for help with games without having to grab a laptop or tablet, as well as the ability to share achievements and even moods. The Wii U gamepad, that crazy gadget with the big touchscreen, was used as a video chat device--it remains to be seen if that's a better option than, say, Microsoft's Kinect, which can also be used for that purpose.
Nintendo also showed off the "Miiverse"--Miis, you'll remember (or not! It's fine if you don't), are sort of cartoony avatars, and the Miiverse looks like it'll function as a Nintendo social network, connecting you with friends. It'll also be available on other devices, from Nintendo and not--the 3DS, sure, but also smartphones and computers.
What's most intriguing to us, as relentless future-looking types, is the addition of near-field communication, or NFC, to the Wii U controller. (If you want some background on NFC, check out our explainer.) NFC has been basically underused in gaming outside of Japan and South Korea (as, actually, it's been underused in regular life), with one major exception: Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure the newly-named best-selling game of 2012. Skylanders gets most of its cachet from NFC equipped action figures--take your action figure to your friend's house, pop it in the game's action-figure set, and all of a sudden, your saved game and player appear on the screen. Nintendo didn't explain in detail what they intend to do with the new tech, but there are definitely some interesting possibilities.
Oh, and for hardcore gamers, Nintendo introduced the Wii U Pro controller, which looks pretty much like an Xbox 360 controller with the right joystick and buttons switched. Not super creative, but the Xbox 360 controller is pretty great so we're not complaining too much.